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    War and Terror: Even in battle, blondes get all the attention
    Posted on Saturday, April 05 @ 01:14:34 UTC
    Topic: Brains Missing
    Brains Missingby Deborah Orr
    04 April 2003, Independent UK

    If a Hollywood screenwriter made up Ms Lynch's story, it would be condemned as cheesy, clichéd and racist

    As heart-warming human interest stories go, "Saving Private Jessica" is hard to beat. Around the world, headlines made reference to Steven Spielberg's film of the US Army's mission to rescue a soldier whose three brothers had all been killed in combat. Private Lynch's story may not have quite the mythic power of Private Ryan's, but in these terrible times it's wondrous enough.

    And part of the wonder must be that Ms Lynch is so much an archetype of what an all-American girl is always portrayed as being. She's blonde and pretty and fair. The photograph of herself in fatigues, the stars and stripes behind her, could easily be mistaken for a Hollywood publicity shot, rather than an army mugshot.

    She seems a sweet and caring girl too, representative of simple, decent, American apple-pie values. Ms Lynch enlisted in the army because she couldn't get the civilian job she needed at 16 in order to educate herself, and to get closer to fulfilling her own ambition of becoming a schoolteacher in her own small community, Palestine. Even the name of the village in West Virginia is fitting. This girl, who before enlisting had never travelled more than 70 miles from her birthplace, had been brought up in a community that shared a name with a country whose own non-existence is centrally implicated in the troubles that almost claimed her life.

    No doubt her story is already being bought up by Hollywood. On this occasion, though, the dream factory won't have much embroidering to do. Ms Lynch's story might have been made up in Hollywood, so perfect is its reflection of American values and the American dream. In fact, if a Hollywood screenwriter had made it up, the critics would have roundly condemned the story as excruciatingly cheesy, hopelessly clichéd and even offensively racist.

    For once again, the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction holds true. Until that rescue, no one expected this splendid happy ending. Rather, commentators suggested, Private Lynch's youthful vulnerability and all-American beauty would be a vile disadvantage in the arms of the enemy.

    Tony Parsons wrote about the "baying lynch mob" that gathered at the edge of the Tigris when it was rumoured that a US pilot had crashed there. "And what if that pilot had been a woman? And blonde, young and pretty like Private Jessica Lynch, currently missing, her fate unknown. That Iraqi lynch mob looked like savages, barbarians, mindless brutes untouched by civilisation." I'm sure Mr Parsons will recognise, with the wisdom of hindsight, that his speculations unconsciously followed exactly those old racist assumptions that men of colour want nothing more than to rape white women.

    What else can explain why he picked out Private Lynch, when he might instead have chosen to mention the plight of Shoshana Johnson, 31, who was shown on Iraqi television, captured and terrified, her frightened eyes darting hauntingly in her smooth black face, or Lori Piestewa, one of 45 Hopi Native Americans serving in the forces, who went missing in the same ambush as Private Lynch.

    Female commentators did not single out Private Lynch alone in quite the way that Mr Parsons did, but spoke instead of all three of the US women who have gone missing in combat. The worry though, was similar. Joan Smith spoke of the fear that women "are more vulnerable, when captured, to sexual assault", while Carole Malone declared that she didn't "want to imagine what had happened to those woman", but braced herself to suggest "rape, gang-rape, slavery, terror".

    In Private Lynch's case, though, we now know these fears, though real, were thankfully unfounded. Instead, her youthful, blonde femininity marked Private Lynch apart in quite a different way.

    Cynics might assume that American forces went the extra mile to save Private Lynch precisely because she was such an iconic young figure. But a crucial aspect of Saving Private Jessica is that Iraqis were able to instantly recognise this girl, so typical of the American ideal, as being from the US, and to respond sympathetically to this recognition. It was an Iraqi woman who laid the groundwork for Ms Lynch's escape, straightforwardly handing a note to a Marine saying exactly where she was, and male Iraqi doctors who nursed her broken body and listened to her cries for home while she remained a prisoner of war.

    As America's leaders pursue their latest dream of glorious liberation, we can only hope that this misty-eyed idealisation is as recognisable to the Iraqis, and the rest of the world, as Private Lynch was. The hope seems somewhat forlorn. Because it is also recognisable that America does have a hierarchy of life, with pretty blondes at the top, black Americans and Native Americans further down and the rest of the world trailing hopelessly. Which might help explain the unseemly rush to war.

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